Sunday, 8 June 2008

Canadian Grand Prix: A Star is Born on a nightmare day for the sport's major players!

Robert Kubica has taken a surprise maiden Grand Prix victory in a thrilling race on the tarmac (and cement!) of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. It marks an incredible rise to prominence of the young Pole, who gained notoriety after an horrific accident here twelve months ago. This time though it was his driving talents that took the headlines, as they have been doing all season long. And after years without a win, the BMW-Sauber team took their first ever victory in style by making it a one-two with Heidfeld in second ahead of Davic Coulthard's Red Bull. And as if this wasn't already fairytale stuff for Kubica and BMW, the victory means Kubica now leads the WDC standings with BMW just 3 points behind leaders Ferrari in the WCC!

From the start Hamilton and Kubica both got perfect starts from the front row. As they filtered into turn one Fernando Alonso was the big loser as he got out of shape mid way through the complex and saw Nico Rosberg drive right around the outside of him and up into fourth. Barrichello got an excellent start and found himself up two places to 7th place after the first few corners, and Nakajima managed to leapfrog both Red Bulls and get himself up into P10.

By the end of the first lap Barrichello had surrendered one of the two positions he'd gained back to Kovalainen, and then within a couple of laps he was back where he started in ninth after Heidfeld made a good move on him into the hairpin. As drivers gradually got to grips with the inconsistent track there was some good racing out on track. Nelson Piquet was finally showing some signs of fighting for his F1 life as on consecutive laps he first passed Timo Glock into turn 1, and then Glock's teammate into the hairpin. Whatever work the organisers had done to the track before the race seemed to be working early on, as the track surface wasn't breaking up as badly as first feared.

The first retirement of the race wasn't due to the suspect track, but a simple mechanical failure for Adrian Sutil. His car ground to a halt on the side of the track and it all seemed pretty undramatic. However, this most ignominious of endings for the Force India actually ended up bringing about the most significant action of the race, and arguably the whole championship so far...

Sutil's brakes caught fire at the side of the track and marshalls were required on track. Race director Charlie Whiting decided to err on the side of caution and called for the safety car. By this point Lewis Hamilton had earned himself a comfortable lead and was looking on course for an easy victory. The safety car immediately negated his advantage, and he and the McLaren team decided to make their first stop, along with second placed Kubica and third placed Raikkonen. As they reached the end of the pitlane the red light was still on. Kubica and Raikkonen stopped side by side on the white line, but both Hamilton and Rosberg didn't see the light in time. Hamilton tried to take evasive action but couldn't avoid hitting the back of Raikkonen, and Rosberg in turn hit the back Hamilton.

Both title protagonists were now out of the race with their cars too badly damaged. Rosberg was able to continue but needed another stop for a new rear wing. It was a mistake from Hamilton, but his McLaren team must also have to take a portion of the blame. They should have learned their lesson after Juan Pablo Montoya was black-flagged from the race in 2005 for running a red light, and should have been screaming at Hamilton over the radio to watch out for the red light. But the team are also culpable because Hamilton shouldn't have been behind Kimi and Kubica anyway; it was a poor pit stop from the McLaren boys before it all kicked off at the pit lane exit. Lewis was suitably apologetic towards Raikkonen as he trudged sheepishly down the pit lane to his garage, but it would have been of little consolation to Kimi who saw any chance of points evaporate through no fault of his own.

Of course, the big winner from all of this was Robert Kubica. He was able to rejoin the race with no damage at all, and was looking comfortable for the race win. He was well back in the field, but had plenty of fuel on board. As a strange twist of fate it ended up being a straight fight between Kubica and his own teammate Heidfeld for the win, with not a Ferrari or McLaren in sight. Heidfeld was fuelled longer from the start, and having plenty of laps under the safety car allowed him to brim his tank at his first stop and run right to the end of the Grand Prix. He emerged from his lengthy stop just in front of Kubica with Fernando Alonso also in close attendance.

Kubica and Alonso both had to make one more stop but had an extremely heavy BMW in front. After a couple of laps Nick Heidfeld was given the order to let Kubica through, but obviously parked his BMW right on the apex of turn 2 to stop Alonso getting through too. The chase was now on for Kubica, as he knew he had to gain himself a 21-23 second gap for his second stop. He started putting in some great laps in the clear air he had and pulled away from Heidfeld at a rate of knots. Arguably Kubica's biggest ally was now Fernando Alonso. Heidfeld was spending his time fiercely battling off the Renault man, and it was undoubtedly hindering his lap times. With hindsight it would perhaps have been advisable to to let the much lighter Alonso through and concentrate on his own race, but it was better for the neutral fans as we saw the two having an excellent scrap.

Alonso looked like he may have gotten past at the hairpin a couple of times, only to run wide on the cement dust and let Heidfeld back through. By the time Alonso spun off the track and into the wall on the “marbles” at turn 7, both of their races had effectively been spoiled. Kubica had gained himself the time he needed, and Alonso had lost an eternity stuck behind the BMW which would have ruined his strategy anyway.

While all this was going on there was plenty of action elsewhere. Nelson Piquet spun in turn 3 and just managed to avoid the wall. He reversed out and VERY nearly got collected by Felipe Massa at high speed in what would have been a very nasty accident. Piquet was later to retire due to badly worn brakes in what was yet another massive disappointment for the young Brazilian, although there were slight signs of improvement early on. The way the safety car interrupted many teams' strategies meant that the order on track was highly unfamiliar. At one point Barrichello led from Coulthard and Trulli; surely one of the oldest top threes in Formula 1 history!

The strategy really didn't work out well for Barrichello, as after his stop he ended up plummeting down the field to finish in 7th. Still, a couple of championship points is more than he would have expected from the weekend. Kazuki Nakajima was having a decent race, having some good battles with the likes of the Toyotas and Hondas. Things went pear-shaped however, when he damaged his front wing by getting too ambitious under braking and needed to pit. As he turned into the pits his front wing got trapped under the car, lifting his front wheels off the ground. He was a complete passenger as he car careered into the pit wall.

So what of the other Ferrari and McLaren cars? With Hamilton and Raikkonen out it was a great opportunity for Felipe Massa to take the lead in the tile race. He wasn't having the best of days with regards to strategy and traffic though. He ended up making THREE pit stops when all of the front runners made just one, which was really through no fault of his own. There was certainly no lack of fighting spirit from Massa as he produced some thrilling moves throughout, most notably a DOUBLE passing maneuver in the hairpin. One of the men he passed there was Kovalainen, who wasn't having a good day at all. After being thrashed in qualifying by his teammate he seemed to be struggling more than most to get to grips with the tricky conditions. He did get unlucky with the strategies and had to pit twice, but still in the closing stages he was ousted from the final points paying positions by young Vettel who had yet another stellar day in the Toro Rosso.

Giancarlo Fisichella spun out in turn 4 and ended up in the barrier. Strangely, this didn't bring out a safety car even though it looked like a more dangerous position than the one Sutil's car ended up in. Ferrari brought Massa in for a splash and dash expecting a safety car, but it simply never came.

Robert Kubica was now cruising to a comfortable debut victory for him and the BMW-Sauber team, with Heidfeld and Coulthard nailed on to round off the podium. It wasn't a formality lower down the field however, as Massa was still desperately trying to gain as many points as possible. He came across the back of the two Toyotas who were running line-a-stern and was pressuring hard. Exiting the hairpin Glock lost traction on the loose surface, meaning Trulli was forced to back out of the throttle. This allowed Massa to cruise past Trulli on the long back straight. He couldn't quite get past Glock too, but still an excellent battling performance from the Brazilian.

So after a breathless and thrilling race with plenty of action and passing, and some high profile mistakes too, we have a new race winner on Formula 1's books and a new leader in the title standings to boot. Of course, it would be hard to imagine Robert Kubica ending the season at the top of the pile given the strength of the Ferraris and McLarens. Hamilton, Massa and Raikkonen will still be ahead of him in the betting for taking the title. It does though marks a rise to stardom for the young Pole, and will certainly have the sports big money teams taking plenty of notice. He is out of contract at the end of the year, and BMW may well have a serious fight on their hands to keep him with the Hinwil based team. The world could well be his oyster...

Provisional Race Results

1. Robert Kubica
2. Nick Heidfeld
3. David Coulthard
4. Timo Glock
5. Felipe Massa
6. Jarno Trulli
7. Rubens Barrichello
8. Sebastien Vettel
9. Heikki Kovalainen
10. Nico Rosberg
11. Jenson Button
12. Mark Webber
13. Sebastian Bourdais
ret Fisichella
ret Alonso
ret Piquet
ret Nakajima
ret Raikkonen
ret Hamilton
ret Sutil

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